Nadine Wallner & Simon Wohlgenannt have skied the Canalone Neri, a steep face gully on the Cima Tosa mountain in Italy. A spectacular tour, with 900 vertical meters and gradients of up to 50°. Enjoy the impressive pictures and read the two freeriders’ exciting account of their adventure.
At the end of March 2017, skiers in the Northern Alps were suffering the effects of a warm front. Despite the impression of winter drawing to an early close, our appetite for skiing had by no means been sated. While most powder junkies were already enjoying the thrills of mountain biking or stretching their fingers on the cliffs, Nadine and I were keeping a careful eye on the weather and conditions. Our planned project in East Switzerland could not go ahead, but Nadine had another idea: the Canalone Neri on the north side of the 3,173 meter Cima Tosa, the highest peak in the Brenta group in Northern Italy. A moderate alpine ice tour or in winter, with sufficient snow coverage, a ski line with 900 vertical meters and gradients of around 50° in parts. This long couloir was first skied in 1970 by Heini Holzer, an Italian alpinist and one of the most famous extreme skiers of the 70s. Over the years, the Canalone Neri became a classic steep face run, with more and more descents completed. The fact that the middle ice wall, which even just a few years ago had called for rappelling, had melted away, made it even more interesting for skiers.
"A ski line with 900 vertical meters and gradients of around 50° in parts."
At first, I was skeptical. A much-skied classic, a long trek to get there and I still needed to organize a babysitter for my son Vinzent. Nadine showed me the weather report - the last few days on the Cima Tosa had been warm, but a cold front was now arriving with 10 to 15 cm of fresh snow followed by another window of high pressure. In other words, perfect conditions for a steep face gully. But was this kind of classic the right project for us? Have the classics been done too many times and become more of a prestige project than a cool ski run? Classic or not, according to Nadine, it was all about the shared experience and in these conditions, we could undoubtedly look forward to some cool freeride turns. Nadine showed me another great photo of the gully in an old book that her father had given her and that was it, I was on board.
Four days later, I picked Nadine up in Klösterle am Arlberg and we set off to Madonna di Campiglio, our starting point. After a four-hour drive, we enjoyed the “dolce vita” of the Dolomites in T-shirts on a little Italian terrace, and ate, as fitting for our project, a plate of cannelloni. There was no sign of snow anywhere, not even in the parking lot in Vallesinella, where we were starting our tour. So, we put on our mountaineering boots, organized our skis and all our gear in and around our backpacks and began the long ascent. A picturesque hike took us up through a forest. We soon came to the edge of the forest and were greeted by the sight of the massive summits of the Brenta group looming up over our heads. We gazed at the impressive rock formations and, at long last: snow. As we made our way upwards, we soon got our first glimpses of the object of our desire and a wide grin spread across our faces. It was getting colder and we were feeling confident.
We made ourselves cozy in the Rif. Brentei refuge with ham, cheese and schnapps and soaked up the last few rays of sunshine. It was slowly getting dark and the full moon was rising like a huge floodlight over the steep gully. Sipping hot tea brewed on the gas stove, we let the stillness and remoteness of the mountains wash over us. Just a few cheeky house guests who had spotted our supplies darted from corner to corner.
After a relaxing night, we set off again. We tackled the flat plain and initial approach on our touring skis. At the start of the 900 meter long steep face gully, we strapped on our crampons. With an ice pick in our hands, we continued our climb on the “Direttisima” - the direct line - through the gully. The sun was slowly rising and dispelling the dark shadows of the dawn light. The steep and high rocky faces to our left and right were impressive, simply standing in the middle of this cleft of rock and snow was a special experience. We picked up a good rhythm and even had a “yahoo” moment in the first third when we realized we were in the right place at the right time. The fresh snow over the last few days had settled well and we found perfect touring powder. The icy bulge in the middle had almost entirely disappeared.
"A 900 meter steep face gully that could be skied down without any rappelling or critical sections."
This was actually a pity, from an alpinist’s point of view. But for us, it was perfect: a 900 meter steep face gully that could be skied down without any rappelling or critical sections. We could even let our skis go at times, we said to each other, already anticipating the run back down. Our legs were definitely suffering from the effects of the steep approach and the 3,173 meter altitude, and, feeling exhausted, we finally reached the large summit plateau of the Cima Tosa around midday. Our reward was a sensational view of the Brenta and Adamello group.
After a peaceful break and snack, it was finally time. We put on our skis and made our way into the steep gully. The wind had shifted the snow a little overnight and a thin crust had formed. From a skiing perspective, this meant we had to take care not to catch an edge and the shifted snow called for caution on small snow slabs. Falling wasn’t an option here.
The grins on our faces were getting broader with every turn.
After the first few meters, we had got used to the steep gradient, the snow was no longer affected by the wind and our enjoyment of the perfect touring powder was growing by the second. We were getting into a real flow and our confidence was growing. Nadine was handling it in style with her perfect skiing technique. The grins on our faces were getting broader with every turn. The 900 vertical meters were pretty tough and our thighs were berating us for any skipped training sessions. We playfully wended our way down and, a few minutes later, the gully threw us back out again. However, looking back, all we could do was smile. Feeling satisfied, we sat at our bivouac and looked proudly back at the Canalone Neri and Cima Tosa. We were happy to have enjoyed this experience together!
Text: Simon Wohlgenannt & Nadine Wallner
Photos: Andreas Vigl